Kashmiris vote for solution to civic problems, defy separatists


Srinagar : A desire for good governance and solutions to their daily problems held sway over Kashmiris as they turned up in large numbers to vote for the second time, defying a poll boycott by separatists in Jammu and Kashmir Sunday.

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While the huge turnout has left mainstream politicians upbeat, separatists said it was an “illegitimate voting” and cannot be held as peoples’ “yes to status quo” over the Kashmir issue.

“I am satisfied with the turnout. People are voting for good governance,” Omar Abdullah, National Conference president, told IANS.

Abdullah, whose luck was sealed in EVMs Sunday in the Ganderbal constituency, said he was not 100 percent sure of his victory “but Insha Allah (god willing), when votes are counted Dec 28, I will be the winner”.

Muslim separatists had intensified their anti-election campaign after 64 percent of voters polled Nov 17 in the first phase of the staggered elections that end Dec 24 in the state.

Many of them jailed, the separatist leaders have been asking Kashmiris to stay away from the election process till Kashmir issue was resolved.

But on Sunday, brisk voting was recorded as people gathered in large numbers outside polling stations to exercise their franchise in round two of the assembly elections.

By 4 p.m., when the voting closed, officials said, tentatively 45 percent of the electors had cast their votes in Ganderbal and 45 in Kangan – the two constituencies of the Kashmir Valley. But the voting was significantly higher in four constituencies in the Jammu region.

Separatist leader Sajjad Gani Lone, chairman of the Peoples Conference said, it was “too early to rush to any conclusion”.

“Five more phases are yet to go,” he said.

“India portrays these elections as a substitute for the resolution of the Kashmir issue,” Lone said, adding, “which is not the case.”

“Kashmir is an issue and needs a resolution. Participating in the electoral process impedes resolution but this is not the verdict favouring the status quo on Kashmir.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, said, the elections were held under “occupation, detentions, curfews and crackdowns”.

“These are illegitimate (elections),” he said, adding how can anyone portray these polls as “an overwhelming yes to status quo on Kashmir”.

However, analysts here say the writing for the separatist leaders is on the wall.

“Kashmiris have consciously de-linked the larger issue from their civic necessities and the writing is on the wall for separatists to read,” said Bashir Manzar, editor of an English daily published from Srinagar.

“They (separatists) should not embarrass themselves furthermore by giving excuses like polling was under the gun and it’s bogus voting. Kashmiris are voting for jobs, electricity and daily life needs… things that cannot wait till the Kashmir issue is resolved.”

If polls were held in the presence of huge security forces, the same number of the police and paramilitary troops was here when hundreds and thousands rallied in favour of freedom just three months ago,” the newspapers

“Nobody stopped the people then and nobody is coercing them to vote now.”

Said Raof Rasool, a peace and conflict teacher in a university. “The message is simple and clear. Don’t link poll politics with larger Kashmir issue. Election boycott has served nothing to Kashmiris.”

“In three months of Governor’s Rule, people here had no access to administration and by electing representatives to the assembly at least they will have somebody to listen to them,” Rasool said.

Ashok Khajuria, state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, said: “It’s a victory of democracy. This turnout will reflect in the coming phases.”